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Publisher: Fourth Estate
Release Date: 2003
ISBN: 0007149980
Format Reviewed: Paperback
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Genre:   Memoir
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Reviewer Notes: Rating: 5 of 5  
Reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the award-winning author of This is the Place and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered

The Speckled People
A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood
By Hugo Hamilton

    How sharp are the knives that divide. The Speckled People: A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood is about the effects of these blades on the lives of children: religion, borders, language, war, culture. And yes, love and hate.

     The narrator is a child, the product of a severe Irish nationalist and a German mother. The parents are creations of their time and place no less than their offspring. Young Hugo is allowed to speak only Irish and German in a land that is increasingly speaking English. He is dressed in Irish sweaters and lederhosen. The identities of some of his relatives are secreted away in armoires and others are flaunted as exemplary models. He is inundated by inflexible rules paradoxically modulated by a mother with much love to give in spite of her own childhood in Germany of the Third Reich; her history is slowly revealed to the reader as Hugo grows in understanding.

     Told with a child's stream of conscious, this memoir requires careful attention. The reader unravels this family's truths only when the child can finally grasp them for himself. This technique heightens our understanding of how affecting such an upbringing can be. The language and structure are poetic in character. One situation reminds the narrator of another connection and we begin to see how this character and this family are strung together and-hopefully-also understand how similar dynamics might have affected our own lives.

     In the end, it is apparent that children who grow up half-and-half or "speckled," will always be marked. Some will turn these hardships into the stuff of insight, understanding, and-in the case of Hugo Hamilton-great talent.